Like many innovations, femtech was born of necessity. It’s no secret that technology firms are male-dominated. Even as women make inroads in diverse fields like medicine, law, and business, they only hold around 25 percent of computing jobs despite being 47 percent of the U.S. workforce. Although that is changing, femtech developed partly as a way to attract investors who might not have otherwise considered women-centric products.
More Than Period Trackers
It isn’t just tech. In 2020, Silicon Valley Bank noted in its Startup Outlook Survey that across industries just one in four start-ups has a woman as a founding member, while only 14% have a female CEO. There’s no question that men can market to women (and vice versa). The potential of the female market wasn’t lost on PayPal co-founder Max Levchin who convinced four other men to invest in the Glow Cycle and Fertility Tracking App that debuted in 2013. Still, not having women in leadership roles means more than possibly ignoring half of a company’s potential customers. That’s because women drive more than 70% of consumer purchasing decisions.
Ida Tin isn’t opposed to male investors –– she coined the term partly to make it easier to attract venture capital from men who might be less comfortable discussing the details of ovulation than saying they have several femtech companies in their portfolio. The Clue App that Tin’s company developed tracks ovulation using a woman’s body temperature and cervical fluid among other things. Although it began with period-tracking apps like Glow and Tin’s Clue, femtech has expanded to cover a range of women’s medical concerns including sexual wellness and reproductive system healthcare such as breastfeeding and pregnancy. It has websites devoted to the sector while attracting a growing volume of venture capital including famed Silicon Valley accelerator program Y Combinator (YC). Yet not all start-ups are based in the States. Tin’s Clue, for instance, is based in Berlin, Germany.
As with platforms that rely on user data for growth and revenue, femtech products have been criticized for occasional lax security and harvesting a large crop of personal information. Tin points out that the anonymized data collected from the Clue App provides a wealth of information that would be expensive to obtain through traditional medical studies. For instance, the app discovered that women’s hormones are different depending on whether they lived in what was once East or West Germany.
Femtech isn’t perfect. Some are worried that users of period-tracking apps are victims of the so-called “pink tax” –– the name given to products marketed to women that are more expensive than similar ones marketed to men –– like razors and soap. Besides a steady stream of ads and “buggy” design, many period trackers are considered unreliable because they focus on a calendar rather than physical indicators of fertility. Still, far from being just period trackers, femtech’s expansion to a wide variety of health concerns is one reason revenue in the sector is projected to reach over one billion dollars by 2024. Although it remains focused on female reproductive health and sexuality, expanding femtech’s interests could also increase revenue. Using data from apps could help undo a longtime lack of representation in clinical trials and medical research that, like the tech sector, was once male-dominated.
Today, multibillion dollar tech companies like Uber and Facebook are headed by female CEOs. However, their founders were male, while many femtech creators are women. While the name and the strategy were designed partly to improve investor outreach, today the sector also helps educate men as well as women about unique health needs.
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.